Top 15 Best Death Metal Bands Of All Time
Written by Hayden Connor
Death metal, otherwise known as the extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Building from the musical structure of thrash metal and early black metal, death metal emerged during the mid-1980s. Bands such as Venom, Celtic Frost, Slayer, and Kreator were important influences on the genre's creation. Bands such as Death, Obituary, Autopsy, and Morbid Angel are often considered pioneers of the genre. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal gained more media attention as popular genre. Niche record labels like Combat, Earache, and Roadrunner began to sign death metal bands at a rapid rate. Since then, death metal has diversified, spawning several subgenres. With lyrical themes ranging from slasher film-style violence, political conflict, religion, nature, philosophy, and science fiction. With consideration of old school death metal and modern death metal bands, here's a list of the top 15 bands of all time from this brutal genre.
One of the most disgusting sounding bands at the time. As we all know, Chris Reifert started Autopsy immediately after leaving Death along side guitarist Eric Cutler. Reifert takes over the vocal duties and my god what a devastating vocal delivery he had, extremely unique at the time and his drumming was unpredictable, you never knew what cymbal he was going too hit next. Both Severed Survival and Mental Funeral are pure classics among the genre, with Severed Survival being straight to the point death metal, whereas Mental Funeral carries the torch of being one of the blueprints of death/doom. The songwriting got weaker on albums like Acts Of The Unspeakable and Shitfun, but returned to form after their departure by releasing solid records like Macabre Eternal and Tourniquets, Hacksaws & Graves. Autopsy always had a slimy and putrid production value that added some charm to their releases that made them a stand out in the death metal scene.
With Demilich only releasing a handful of demos and one full length (so far), they managed to create a fucking masterpiece with Nespithe which still holds up to being one of the heaviest and most twisted death metal records to date. Having the disgusting almost inhuman vocal performance from Antti Bowen, excellent wacky guitar work, abstract drumming and wicked bass breakdowns, its incredible and extremely unique. To this day many bands still worship and take influence from Demilich, from the instrumentation to the vocal work. Couldn't imagine what it would of been like to hear these guys back in the early 90s, the Finnish scene had bands that were experimenting with different sounds, but Demilich took it too a whole new level, just mind blowing stuff. It's a band that can be difficult to digest, but it's worth it once Demilich starts dragging you into another dimension.
A high praise pioneering band of tech death. Out of the Florida state, dozens upon dozens of great records were being released, but Atheist took death metal far beyond its comfort tone by adding in a clear jazz influence to their sound, incorporating complex chords, nutty solos and clean sections. If you're a bass player, Atheist is a band that had one of the greatest bass players in the genre named Roger Patterson, playing beyond the guitar work without showing off too much, great contrasting guitar riffs and the drumming is unbelievable. There material is obviously technical as fuck, but still maintaining catchy and memorable moments that can connect with any metalhead, whether you're a musician or not, you can appreciate the instrumentation on their records. Many can agree that they haven't released a bad album, but Unquestionable Presence takes the gold medal to me.
12. Cattle Decapitation
Relatively newer band on the list (even though they formed in 1996), but with albums like The Harvest Floor, Monolith of Inhumanity and their latest offering Death Atlas, they have had a huge impact in the world of extreme music over the past 10 years. Having one of the most unique frontmen in death metal, Travis Ryan is a man who really likes to experiment within his voice, having the obvious influence of Carcass by utilising his highs and lows, but starting on Monolith of Inhumanity he developed his own distinctive vocal approach with his weird "troll" sounding vocals that's so hard to explain without hearing. Got to mention how tight the band is too, jumping between grind, death and even some emotional clean arpeggios on their latest release and the relentless drummer too provide a strong rhythm section. So many catchy vocal melodies, intriguing lyrics and fairly technical riffs that'll rip your face off. Also, these guys kick ass on stage!
A band that truly progressed to a new and improved sound over each release. Luc Lemay being the mastermind, his songwriting went from straight up caveman death metal on Considered Death, then to almost avant-garde territory on Obscura and continued in that path on Colored Sands which came out in 2013. Canada has a ton of awesome death metal acts like Crytopsy, Katakylsm, Beyond Creation, Tomb Mold and many more which I guarantee had some sort of influence from Gorguts one way or another. It's complex stuff but they're clever with their musicality as it's memorable, catchy and addictive. Gorguts had several line up changes over the years, but every member brought in their own musical touch with Luc Lemay staying loyal as frontmen for the band.
One of England's most revolting bands that still holds up to today's standards. Starting off with a ugly, disgusting album like Reek Of Putrefaction that continued with Symphonies Of Sickness, it wasn't until Necroticism they went straight up death metal, then created a melodic masterpiece with Heartwork when Michael Amott joined in the songwriting process, even there latest record Surgical Steel is a modern masterpiece for die hard fans. Both Jeff Walker and Bill Steer have a knowledge of how to combine their two unique vocal styles, also having the bad-ass downtuned guitar work and excellent drumming from Ken Owens. These guys also drew down the templates for gore grind, which is still a discussed sub genre in the metal underground in today's era. Carcass was one of the first extreme metal bands I ever heard, so they'll always hold down a special place for my top 15.
9. Blood Incantation
Easily my favourite "newer" death metal band. Having unique cosmic sounding guitar work which is fairly technical, out of the ordinary lyrical content, awesome fretless bass work and unpredictable drumming. They can be brutal as fuck but can also sound atmospheric with doomy sections and emotional solos. Having only a few demos, an EP and two full lengths under their belt, they've managed to grab the undergrounds attention and toured with big acts such as Morbid Angel, Immolation and many more. I remember hearing Starspawn for the first time and being blown away by every track. Their latest record Hidden History Of The Human Race was my number 1 for 2019 and I'm still blasting it everyday. Can't wait to hear what these guys do next!
New York had a swarm of great bands in the 90s, my personal favourite is Immolation. Honestly a very solid discography from this band, I get a kick out of every record they have put out, even they're latest offering Atonement features some of the bands best material to date. Creating fresh and new ideas throughout their career whilst always staying true to there sound, that's a hard thing to accomplish from a band but Immolation nail it. Ross Dolan has such a distinctive vocal tone while lead guitarist Robert Vigna is a mastermind when it comes to his unholy riffs. Lyrically, Immolation focuses heavy on the anti-religious side of things, but without being cheesy about it like Deicide (even though I love Deicide). I have a hard time choosing a favourite record from Immolation, its a toss between Dawn Of Possession, Here In After and Close To A World Below, all of them are fantastic and feature awesome ideas. Definitely a band who has great chemistry and became stronger musicians as the years went by.
Sweden was a gold mine for death metal, Dismember being my favourite from the bunch. If I had to describe their debut in one word, it would be "riffs", the guitar work is fantastic and tone wise obviously one of the originators of utilising the HM-2 pedal on full blast which many bands still use today. Heavily rhythm based with hints of melodic sections. Like An Everflowing Stream is in my top 3 death metal records ever, the atmosphere is absolutely bone chilling on that album, but of course you have other great releases like the Pieces EP and Indecent & Obscene. Unfortunately their later material doesn't gel with me much but their early work will always heal and influence me in future years. I also enjoy the band Carnage which is pretty much "pre" Dismember as majority of the members were in Carnage. The amount of influence these guys have had on me is remarkable, just a awesome band with a bible of epic riffs.
6. Morbid Angel
What kind of death metal fan doesn't like Morbid Angel, like seriously? To me their first 6 records are completely flawless, the savagery of Alters Of Madness, to the heaviness of Covernet, to the pure brutality of Formulas Fatal To The Flesh, its all great. Obviously their later work is questionable starting with Heretic but without a doubt Trey and the boys put out some fucking awesome music. Trey Azagthoth was such a unique riff writer, making weird and intriguing guitar work both rhythmically and melodically in his solos, both David Vincent and Steve Tucker are monstrous frontmen, I don't care about the useless debate on whose better because both have their perks. Pete Sandoval is a GOD on the kit, constantly improving his abilities on each record and its super fun attempting to air drum to his crazy fills and blast beats. Picking a favourite record from Morbid Angel is pretty much impossible, but as of recently I gotta go with Covernet just because every track slaps, but I remember hearing Alters Of Madness for the first time and couldn't get enough.
5. Bolt Thrower
If any band on this list had to win a medal for consistency, it would be Bolt Thrower. Hailing from England, these warriors of death metal created some of the most gut wrenching war themed death metal we all know and love. Exploring all eras of war, from World War, to Medieval times to Fantasy material. Relying heavily on the rhythm section, both long time members Barry Thomson and Gavin Ward wrote a countless amount of simple yet fucking effective riffage that's so contagious, Karl Willetts is the perfect vocalist for the band, he's doing nothing really special but he sounds like an absolute behemoth, Jo Bench never depended on anything fancy to be a great bass player, but she held down a thunderous tone for the rhythm section and the amount of females she influenced to pick up an instrument is mind blowing, Bolt Thrower also had a great collection of talented drummers as well. For me it's impossible to choose a favourite record, from the early blasphemy of Realm Of Chaos, to the doomy knuckle dragging atmosphere of The IVth Crusade and the catchiness of For Victory and Those Once Loyal, its all fantastic. Love this band to death!
4. Cannibal Corpse
Whether you get a hate boner over this band or not, you can't deny the influence these guys had on the death metal scene. The first 4 records from this band I hold in high regards to what death metal is all about, with Chris Barnes pushing his limits vocally, George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher having some of the best articulation in the genre, disturbing fucked up lyrics, furious catchy dissonant riffs from the many talented guitar players this band has had and the almighty Alex Webster, arguably my favourite bass player of all time and in my eyes he's an absolute genius. I generally enjoy all of Cannibal Corpse's material, from the meat & potatoes of their early work to the more technical madness of later records, its all very consistent and well done. I remember hearing Hammer Smashed Face for the first time and hearing that bass solo which instantly influenced me to pick up my bass and learn that song.
When bands took the faster is better route, Obituary took everything slow and created a pure slimy atmosphere. Slowly We Rot being their debut and possibly their heaviest, in my opinion it's the heaviest record to feature E standard tuned guitars, it takes creativity to write such disgusting riffs in a common tuning like that. John Tardy has a voice of a fucking behemoth, incredibly unique screams and growls that send goosebumps down my spine, he was one of the few early death metal vocalists at the time to stand apart from the pack and had his own signature vocal style, they have fairly simple yet chunky and memorable riffs throughout their catalogue, Obituary have never been technical and that's the way Obituary should be. Cause Of Death is their peak record for me, just strong song writing and fantastic solos from the one and only James Murphy. The End Complete and World Demise are solid records too, unfortunately they became fairly stale for future records but their latest self titled that was released in 2017 is the best since World Demise. The Celtic Frost influence takes a big part in Obituary's sound, but they still create awesome original sounding riffs that I absolutely adore.
Not only among the top 3 of my death metal list, but also a contender for my favourite band of all time. Obviously these guys are far from being a straight forward death metal band as they incorporate elements from jazz, prog and even some early pop material. Almost their whole discography is flawless, from the aggressiveness of albums like Orchid and Morningrise, to classics like Still Life and Blackwater Park and the truly diverse song writing on Ghost Reveries and Watershed. Mikael Akterfekt is my favourite frontmen ever, both his gut wrenching growls and his beautiful clean singing contrast and resonate effortlessly together. Members like Peter Lindgren, Martin Mendez, Fredrik Akesson and Martin Lopez are fucking insane musicians, all throwing in specs of different influences and backgrounds. I know fans take a dig at their later "progressive rock" releases but I love them personally, even their latest album In Cauda Venenum has some of Mikael's best vocal moments in his career.
Probably a clichè, but I honestly couldn't care less, Death is and will always be my favourite death metal band. Every album is a masterpiece with each melting fresh ideas and unique aspects. The caveman primitive work on Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy, to the mature realistic lyrical content on Spiritual Healing and the progressive elements on later records. Chuck Schuldiner is a warrior as a vocalist, guitarist and song writer, with countless of legendary musicians along side with him on the journey like Gene Holgan, Steve DiGiorgio, James Murphy, Rick Ross, Terry Butler and many many more. My favourite is a toss between Human and The Sound Of Perseverance, both having classic tunes and monster line ups. Symbolic was the first record I consider to grab my attention to death metal and became an addict of the genre ever since. The amount of influence I've gained from this band is unbelievable, as a guitarist and a bass player, Death has shaped my tone and way of writing riffs and music in general.